Posts Tagged ‘Charles Simic’

WEBB LIBRARY: New Additions

December 13, 2010

In this new column, we’ll occasionally mention some of the books we’ve added to our ever-growing and eclectic library, which is gradually taking over our Brooklyn apartment.  (We were both English majors in college, so we have 100’s of poetry, nonfiction, novels, and photography books.)

We recently added the following four books of photography — Lee Friedlander’s America by Car, Alec Soth’s From Here to There, Jason Eskenasi’s Wonderland, David Taylor’s Working the Line — and one book of poetry: Charles Simic’s Lingering Ghosts.  They are all very different books, reflecting five fascinating and unusual ways of responding to the world and human existence. What they do all share, however,  is a sense of individuality: one cannot imagine anyone else making these books except these particular authors. It’s what both Rebecca and I prize about each of these books.

Trent Bailey’s photograph of the five books on our library’s mantelpiece also shows a detail from an early Patrick Webb painting, as well as an unusual new addition — Phinneas the Pheasant — a specimen of a ring-tailed pheasant, which happens to be the state bird of Rebecca’s home state of South Dakota.  We acquired Phinneas this fall while driving back from the  Black Hills to our Brooklyn neighborhood.–Alex Webb

NEW HONG KONG WORKSHOP ADDED MIDJANUARY:

We’ve added a two-day workshop in Hong Kong next month, in which we’ll feature the first unbound copy of Alex’s upcoming survey book, The Suffering of Light, hot off the press from the printing plant in Hong Kong.  If you’re based in Hong Kong or the area — or have photographic friends that are — please feel free to email them this link to the workshop, which is on the Magnum site.

To read more about this workshop in Chinese, please visit this link.Rebecca Norris Webb

Webb Library, 2010

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TWO QUESTIONS: On Framing and Philosophy; On Multimedia and Text/Image Synergy

February 17, 2010

This month, we have TWO QUESTIONS from Japanese photographer and editor, HIROSHI YAMAUCHI, his first question about how Alex frames his photographs and his second one about how Rebecca thinks about the marriage of text and images in photography books. Next, our second featured photographer, OLGA KRAVETS from Russia, asks Rebecca about which comes first in her photographic process –– the idea or the image –– and then questions Alex about how he feels about the  expansion of photography into the world of multimedia, and the challenges that places on photographers today. You can learn more about Hiroshi and Olga at the end of this column, which also includes links to their work.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

ON THE FRAME’S ANATOMY; ON TEXT/IMAGE SYNERGY

Alex Webb, Ponce, Puerto Rico, 1990

HIROSHI YAMAUCHI:  Alex, when you come across a situation and “smell” the possibility of a good photo, do you run an anatomy of the scene first to divide spaces in your finder for what could happen?  It’s almost as if you precisely choreograph the elements in each of your frames.

ALEX WEBB: Saying “run an anatomy of the scene” makes the process sound highly analytical.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  My process is not about thought, not about analysis, but rather about feeling the totality of a scene and responding intuitively, emotionally, non-rationally.  I have sometimes used the word “smell” in this context (and I think I am paraphrasing Cartier-Bresson) specifically because smell is sensory, not rational.    The process can be a bit mysterious.  When I photograph, I sense the possibility of something — something about the feel of a place, the situation, some impending moment, the light, the color, the space, the shapes — and I often hang out and wait, hoping that something will happen, something will emerge.  But I’m never sure quite what this something is.  For me, the elements that go into the picture are often emotional elements: not just what is in fact “happening” in a situation (the purported “subject” of the image), but the space, the color, the light.  Form isn’t just form, it can be emotion.  Color isn’t just color for color’s sake, it, too, carries emotion.  Sometimes a shape in the foreground becomes some kind of transformative element, sometimes an empty space strikes a special emotional note, sometimes the color changes what wasn’t an evocative scene into something very different… Ultimately I never know what it is that I am going to find, and just how the world will surprise me.

HY: Rebecca, do you design your creative writing to play certain roles in your visual presentation as a whole?  Do you feel a good marriage of writing and photography can generate synergy, like a good meal with good wine?

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: Originally a poet, I’ve long been interested in the relationship between text and images, and how the two can illuminate each other.  For me, it’s one of my chief obsessions, something I hope to explore with each of my photography books.  In some ways, when the relationship between text and images works well, it is like a good marriage or a good meal, where the different elements complement each other, sometimes creating a kind of synergy that’s stronger than the separate elements individually.  Ultimately, it’s about striking the right balance, so that one form doesn’t overpower the other.  That said, I don’t think all books call for a lot of text –– some books just need enough to point the reader/viewer in the right direction.  In my opinion, part of power of the photography book –– and one way it is like poetry –- is its ability to suggest complex themes and ideas, yet leave enough space for the viewer/reader to have his or her own unique experience of the work.

Since we are talking here about the photography book, I think the visual element has to be considered when thinking about the text.  For my first book, The Glass Between Us, my designer, Astrid Lewis Reedy, and I decided to place the text pieces, which I called “Reflections,” either across from a blank page or opposite another text piece, as way of creating a kind of pause visually for the reader/viewer, hopefully as a way of echoing the kind of reflective state of mind one feels when looking at the creatures in a aquarium or zoo — philosophically or psychologically or emotionally or humorously or, sometimes, all of the above.  After visiting a zoo, the poet Charles Simic once wrote, “…I noticed many animals who had a fleeting resemblance to me.”

ON PHILOSOPHY & PHOTOGRAPHY; ON MULTIMEDIA

Rebecca Norris Webb, Hot Springs, South Dakota, 2009

OLGA KRAVETS: Rebecca, your projects seem to me very philosophical: There is much that your pictures make me think of, after I go through them. When you develop the idea of a photo project, do you know in advance what your pictures would look like, what and where you would shoot, etc.? Will an unexpected picture find its place in the final layout of a book?

RNW: My work is first and foremost a collaboration with the world.  I’ve learned over the years to have faith in those images that speak most insistently to me, first when I encounter them in the world when photographing, and, secondly, when I come across some of them again when editing, those rare birds that continue to resonate in me in a rich and complicated way –– emotionally, philosophically, poetically, politically –– with something akin to a kind of hum:  the hum of life and death, the hum of beauty and suffering, the hum of praise and lamentation, the hum of the world.

So, I guess you could say that I follow these resonant images to the complex idea or ideas underlying the particular book I’m working on, not the other way around.  “The image is an idea, a true idea, an earlier idea than a concept,” says the poet Li-Young Lee, and I agree wholeheartedly with him.  When I work, I try to stay as open as I can throughout the entire process of photographing a project:  I don’t know before I go out to photograph what image I will find, and many of my photographs that end up in one of my books –– at both the beginning and the end of a project –– are unexpected ones.  That’s part of the excitement of working on a long-term photography project: you never know when or where you’ll come across your strongest photographs.  As a fiction writer once said about his creative process:  If I knew how a story would end before I wrote it, what’s the point of writing it?

OG: Alex, you started photography in the pre-digital era, when a photographer was just a photographer, so what do you think of the industry today, when one, willing to become successful, has to be a jack-of-all-trades — shoot not only stills, but also video, write text, record sounds, and, finally, also produce a quality multimedia piece?

AW: You are right that photographers seem to be asked to do more today by the industry than in the past.  However, I should remind you that photographers have rarely been “just photographers.”  The process of making a book of photographs — conceiving, editing, and sequencing (sometimes even designing) — has always demanded all kinds of other skills beyond just being a photographer.  Photographers used to always print their own photographs — sometimes an arduous task, potentially as time-consuming as some of the activities that you describe.  What is different is that now photographers are increasingly being asked sometimes to step outside of the vocabulary of still imagery into other fields — video and sound.  I personally remain deeply involved in the specific language of still images — books and exhibitions — but I think there are some very exciting possibilities in the realm of multimedia.  For the latter to be successful, a vocabulary has to be developed that is significantly different than either still photography or the moving image — so that in looking at the multimedia piece one is not reminded of what it isn’t — still photographs or film/video — but of what it is — a presentation that partakes of both kinds of media but is, in reality, its own unique medium.

Hiroshi Yamauchi, Beijing, 2007

Hiroshi Yamauchi was born in Osaka, Japan in 1974. After studying political science and international relations, he entered the School of Visual Communications at Ohio University.  Hiroshi worked at the Anchorage Daily News and other U.S. newspapers, returning to Japan in 2000 to work for a wire service.  In 2006, he freelanced for domestic and international newspapers and magazines, and in 2007 joined a photography quarterly,  81Lab. Magazine, which he now co-runs.

Hiroshi’s website:  http://www.wow-photo.jp

81Lab. Magazine website: http://www.81lab.com

Olga Kravets, Primorsk, Russia, 2009

Olga Kravets, a freelance photographer based in Moscow, has worked for Berlingske Tidende (Denmark), Dagsavisen (Norway), Financial Times Deutschland (Germany), Helsingin Sanomat (Finland), Kristeligt Dagblad (Denmark), Observer (UK), Tank Magazine (UK), The Globe and Mail (Canada), Throw (Netherlands), among others.  In 2009, she was a finalist for The Aftermath Project grant, and top-10 winner of the competition, “Young Photographers of Russia.”  Olga is the author of the photography projects,  “Primorsk. The Sunken Soviet City” and “Heroes of Karabakh.”  Her work has been included in several group exhibitions in Russia and Norway.

Olga’s website: http://www.olgakravets.com

TWO QUESTIONS: On Literature and Photography; On Editing and Double Spreads

January 18, 2010

For January, we are featuring TWO QUESTIONS from two photographers — Natalia Jimenez, a photographer and photo editor based in New York whose family is from Peru, and Toomas Kokovkin, a geographer and photographer born in Russia, but who lives and often documents in Estonia.  They both asked questions about photography’s relationship to literature as well as about the process of photo-editing and the use of double-spreads in the photographic book. You can read more about Natalia and Toomas below.––Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb

Alex Webb, Bombardopolis, Haiti, 1986

NATALIA JIMENEZ: Alex, how has literature helped influence and shape your vision as a photographer? Who are some writers that you have found the most influential to your work?

ALEX WEBB:  Deeply buried in the back of the photographer’s mind lie all kinds of influences –– what one has seen, read, heard, experienced –– a lifetime of influences, flotsam and jetsam, and baggage, personal and cultural –– and all these things conjoin, unbeknownst to the photographer, at the moment when one presses the shutter.

My father was a writer –– albeit a secretive one –– and I have always been interested in fiction.  Though I majored in college in literature, I realized fairly early on that the process of photography –– going out and confronting the world with the camera –– worked much better for me than confronting the blank page.  However, I have definitely been influenced by writers and their vision of the world, especially in how their writings have sparked my interest in certain places.

Because of the terrible tragedy in Haiti right now, a disaster that Haiti, of all countries, is least equipped to deal with, of course Haiti comes to mind. My first reading of Graham Greene’s The Comedians in 1975, a book that both fascinated and scared me, was key in my decision then to go to Haiti for the first time, a trip that transformed me as a photographer and as a human being. And my photographic explorations of Latin American have certainly been influenced by the writings of some of the “magic realist” novelists, in particular Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa. Throughout my work in Latin America, the mundane is often transformed into the fantastical. Often people seem to morph into animals, and animals into people.  I look at some of my photographs from the Amazon or the Darien in Panama, and I think of the world of Vargas Llosa’s The Green House: steamy, isolated river towns where the military or the police swagger through, where the jungle is ever-present, always encroaching. Do I think of notions of “magic realism” when I walk the streets of little jungle towns?  Certainly not.  On the street I am in the moment. But, in hindsight –– which sometimes adds insight ––  I suspect that I am more attuned to such notions because of my readings.

N.J.: Rebecca, You are both a photographer and photo editor. How have you been able to maintain both a balance and separation between someone else’s work and your own, while contributing to another person’s vision?

REBECCA NORRIS WEBB: For me at least, photography and photo editing are two very different and distinct skills.  I feel fortunate that I can do both, since not all photographers can.  (I know some very noted and talented photographers, for instance, who never edit their own photographic books.)

The challenge, as you well know, Natalia, since you yourself are both a photo editor and photographer, is how to maintain some sort of balance in one’s life.  This is the crucial question, since both editing and teaching –– which I consider similar endeavors –– can sap one’s creative energy, and make it difficult to have enough left over to feed one’s own work.   So how does one do this?  Every person is different and has different creative rhythms.  For me to ensure a creative and emotional balance in my life, it’s essential that I dedicate a majority of my time to my own personal photographic projects, so that even though I may also be working on one of Alex’s books and/or another photographer’s projects, for instance, my personal projects continue to be my first priority and I see myself primarily as a photographer and author/bookmaker.  In addition, I’ve also learned over the years to be more detached while editing another’s person’s work.  I’ve come to realize that my chief job as a photo editor is to help another photographer see how to make his or her work as strong as it can be.  I am merely a facilitator –– and on my good days, sometimes even an illuminator –– but never the author.  It is always in the end their book, their project, their assignment.  Accepting that limitation allows me to feel good about my role as editor, to let go of the projects once they are done, and then turn my attention to what’s most important in my life –– my own books and projects.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Near White Owl, South Dakota, 2009

TOOMAS KOKOVKIN: Rebecca, do you see the photographic book rather like a novel or a collection of verses?

It’s difficult to compare different arts, but if I had to select a literary form that’s closest to the photographic book –– or, at least, to the way I’ve edited and sequenced them –– I would choose the poetry book, which I guess is not a surprise considering my background as a poet. One of the main reasons I consider poetry and photography sister arts is because the poetic image –– which is suggestive and resonant and sometimes mysterious –– lies at the heart of both forms.

If I were to look at my own photographic books, I would say that they specifically resemble a certain kind of poetry book, one that is a series of interrelated poems, such as The World Doesn’t End by Charles Simic, or Wild Iris by Louise Gluck.  In both of these examples, what pulls the reader through the book is the combination of the poet’s sensibility, the resonant and suggestive images, the topic/theme of the book, and the emotional tensions and contradictions that fuel the book’s poetic journey.  I say journey, but I don’t mean necessarily a linear journey through time and space.  Instead, it is more a poetic journey through a landscape of these suggestive and mysterious and sometimes contradictory images –– some of which may be resonant moments suspended in time like a photograph ––that allow the viewer/reader to accompany the poet on the journey yet have his/her own unique experience of that same poetic journey, which may be similar to –– yet simultaneously different from –– the poet’s experience.

T.K.: Alex, how do you envision a wholeness of a photographic book? Do you see it as a movie on paper, or perhaps closer to a collection of single, distinct images?  In addition, how much does the two-page spread influence a book’s sequence and  unity?

A.W.: I think that there are different kinds of photographic books, books that strike different notes –– in their structure, their sequencing, and their design.  Some books seem like pieces of music: a big book might be a kind of symphony, a small book a kind of sonata. Other books seem more cinematic in structure, relying on jump cuts and running sequences.  (Though one could also say that this corresponds to a kind of musical counterpoint.) Yet other books seem more didactic, more rigid, more essay-like.  So I think that there are multiple analogies that can be made to clarify the nature of photographic books.

For my own books, I tend to structure them emotionally and hence –– more or less –– musically.  I often think of the books in terms of movements, movements corresponding to emotional notes, which in turn may well correspond to hues of color, or modulation of light and dark.  My first book, Hot Light/Half-Made Worlds, moves from light to dark – both literally and emotionally –– passing through a whole host of interim emotional states on the way.   From the Sunshine State, my book on Florida, has a more unsettled structure –– maybe more like jazz improvisation –– to represent the cacophony of Florida.  And Rebecca’s and my recent book, Violet Isle, works like a duet, exploring the point/counterpoint of our respective and distinct visions. Each of these books has its own  distinct structure corresponding to a series of emotional notes that I or, in the instance of Violet Isle –– we –– felt made sense for the given body of work.

Regarding double spreads (two-page spreads):  Double spreads can give a sense of drama, a kind of visual explosion, which has a very specific impact on the viewer.  But using them results in a compromise: The image is split down the middle, so sections of the image may well be obscured by the book’s gutter.  There are double spreads in both Under A Grudging Sun and Crossings because these books called out for that kind of image size and drama.  Some of my other books, however, did not demand that same level of intensity, so I ended up using the double spread for a variety of other reasons.  With Violet Isle, for instance, Rebecca and I chose to use double spreads because we wanted the viewer to go back and forth from our distinct visions with each spread. We felt this was important to emphasize the uniqueness of our respective visions while simultaneously exploring their compatibility.  And with Violet Isle, our designer chose a paperback format with a Smythe binding, which lies flatter than other kinds of binding, obscuring less of the picture in the gutter.

In the end, books are always compromises of some sort or another –– whether in the design or in the printing.  One chooses the form that best represents what you need to say about that particular project –– which is often also what you feel about it.

NATALIA JIMENEZ

Natalia Jimenez, Nairobi, Kenya, 2006

Natalia is a photo editor and photographer in New York City. When she is not hunting down the best images for the The Star-Ledger, she enjoys photographing wherever her travels take her. She studied photography at S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University and ICP.

Natalia’s website: www.nataliajimenez.com

TOOMAS KOKOVKIN

Toomas Kokovkin, "The Flying Girl"

I was born in 1960 in St Petersburg (former Leningrad), but have lived mostly in Estonia. For nearly 20 years, I have been living on the island of Hiiumaa, which is in the Baltic sea. I have a PhD in geography, and have been involved in various programs that look at the relationship between people and nature, such as World Wide Fund for Nature and the UNESCO’s program, “Man and Biosphere.”

As a research geographer, I originally focused on travel and field-work photographs, but, with time, I began to realize that there was something important that I could not catch in my photographs. Whether it was a moment, an emotion, a gesture, a mood, or something else that I could not grasp, it was so elusive that I could not name it. Early on as a photographer, I found myself too attached to words and their meanings. Slowly I began to see that through the photographic language I could begin to explain the world in a different way, without having to rely so much on words.

Recently, I have photographed projects thoughout Europe, mostly in rural and coastal areas, projects which often depict the daily lives of people in their environments. I have edited and published several books, and my work has been in exhibitions in Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Finland, and France.–T.K.

Toomas’s website:  http://toomas.fotokogu.com

POSTINGS: November 2009

November 16, 2009

This month, we’re featuring TWO LINKS about Bruce Davidson and his exhibitions in New York, TWO QUOTES about poetry and photography, and a celebratory TWO VIEWS. –– Alex and Rebecca
Bruce Davidson. Sicily, 1961

Bruce Davidson, Sicily, 1961

TWO LINKS: BRUCE DAVIDSON

I first encountered Bruce Davidson’s work in an issue of Popular Photograph’s Annual in the late 1960’s, an issue that my father, a serious amateur (and occasionally professional) photographer urged on me. My recollection is that the magazine published some of Bruce’s England and Wales project.  Whether it ran one of my favorites of Bruce’s photographs from Sicily (above), a wonderfully spontaneous and lyrical photograph, I don’t recall.

Having been captivated by the Davidson of immediacy, of spontaneity, of grain and occasional blur, I was startled, some years later, to experience the stillness of his East 100th Street work: large format portraits.  I didn’t get it right away.  As the years have passed, however, I’ve come to appreciate the rich and varied poetry of Bruce’s expansive body of work.  He is a photographer’s photographer, in love with the medium itself: a master of grain, of the moment, and of those impeccable textures that only the larger format can give.  He seems to have worked seamlessly in all formats: equally comfortable with the immediacy of the street and the still confrontation of the portrait.

He has two exhibitions up right now in NY that reflect his remarkable photographic range, one at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, one at the Bruce Wolkowitz Gallery.  Here are two links to articles about Bruce and his work, one by Randy Kennedy in The New York Times, and the other by Philip Gefter in The Daily Beast, author of Photography After Frank.––Alex Webb

Link to The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/arts/design/08kenn.html

Link to The Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-11-05/bruce-davidsons-true-grit/

BD.poetry

Bruce Davidson, Selma, Alabama, 1965

TWO QUOTES: THE POETIC IMAGE

The photographer and writer Wright Morris once wrote,  “I do not give up the camera eye when writing –– merely the camera.”  Originally a poet and now a photographer, I would say the reverse is also true: “I do not give up the poetic eye with photographing –– merely the pen.”

To see the close relationship between these two sister arts, one only has to look at the root of the word “photography,” which literally means “writing with light.”  Both photography and poetry share a preoccupation with light and time and the elusive moment, so fleeting that one of the few ways to try to grasp it is to hold a book of poetry or photography in one’s hands.

What do people mean when they talk about “the poetic image” in photography?  The two Bruce Davidson photographs above (the first one, one of Alex’s favorites, the second, one of mine) certainly come to mind.

Well, to start to answer this complicated question, one that I will probably revisit from time to time on this blog, I thought I should turn to two poets:  Charles Wright and Charles Simic, former poet laureate of the U.S, who originally was a painter.  Their definitions of poetry rely on two distinct images that are resonant and multiplicitous and evocative –– yet another definition of the poetic image.––Rebecca Norris Webb

Poetry: three mismatched shoes at the entrance of a dark alley. –– Charles Simic

Poetry is the shadow of the dog –– the dog is out there ever on the move. ––Charles Wright

TWO VIEWS: TENTH ANNIVERSARY

When Rebecca and I decided to get married in 1999, we opted for hand-made wedding invitations.  When I looked through my work for the right photograph, this one sprang to mind, and Rebecca agreed wholeheartedly, since it’s also one of her favorites.  Now, ten years later, I still associate this image with our wedding day, the best day of my life.––Alex Webb

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1996

Alex Webb, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1996

 

Sometimes a poem arrives whole.  This poem is one of those rare birds. It was sparked by an event Alex and I witnessed walking home late one evening from a movie through our Brooklyn neighborhood.  We saw a stranger sitting on his stoop, and he said in a quiet voice, barely above a whisper, as if he were sharing a secret: “Do you want to see Saturn?”

Alex and I quickly exchanged glances, and before we knew it, we were both kneeling on the sidewalk peering through this stranger’s telescope.  Neither of us, we realized, had ever actually seen the sixth and largest planet.  Alex, always the gentleman, let me look first. The next morning, I wrote down what happened.  This poem is for Alex, in honor of our 10th wedding anniversary.––Rebecca Norris Webb

MATRIMONY

for Alex

One night I see Saturn ––

between Ninth and Tenth Street ––

naked and luminous

through the glass.

You look, too:

white orb, the ring

of your laughter.

Floating home, you pull me

into your chest.

I’m light, mercury vapor,

almost yours,

until the mortal woman returns,

all curves and memory,

your arm ringing my waist.

A gift, this distance

we’ve traveled so far.

––Rebecca Norris Webb